Facts disputed in Burlington police shooting lawsuit

By  | 

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A hearing in federal court Thursday stemming from a 2013 police shooting. Former Burlington Police officer Ethan Thibault shot and killed Wayne Brunette after Brunette allegedly charged his partner with a shovel. Thibault claimed self-defense. That shooting was later ruled justified.

But Brunette's widow sued the city, the police department and three officers, claiming they did not respond properly to her husband's mental illness. And now there's a dispute over what happened the night Brunette was shot.

Thursday in federal court, it was a battle of facts. Each side disputed various statements by witnesses and judgments made by those Burlington Police officers almost 5 years ago.

Witness accounts put Brunette from eight feet to just inches away from the other officer on scene, Cpl. Brent Navari. Navari asked Brunette to come out from his home to speak with officers when they arrived, which the plaintiffs argue was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming they failed to provide Brunette with reasonable accommodations for his mental health illness.

The defense says police only did what they were trained to do, which the lawsuit claims is not enough, and said the city of Burlington failed to train police effectively in mental health situations.

Brunette complied with the officer's request and came out with a 4-foot spaded shovel. Judge Christina Reiss, questioned whether a shovel is a deadly weapon. As Brunette approached Navari, both officers drew their firearms. Witnesses say the shovel was being jabbed toward Navari as the officer walked backward and maintained a distance from Brunette. Some witnesses say Thibault was over 20 feet away. Others say he was within striking distance. Thibault repeatedly yelled at Brunette to drop the shovel. It is unclear if Brunette started walking toward Thibault, as the officer fired one or two shots. Brunette stayed on his feet and Thibault fired two more shots.

Now, you may ask why Tasers or pepper spray wasn't used. WCAX News found out that at the time, Burlington Police didn't have enough Tasers to equip all officers, and neither of the officers at the scene had them at the time. Pepper spray was also deemed not effective.

The city will have two weeks to dispute any other facts in the case, and the judge will decide if it goes to trial.